Out Of The Box: Analysis Of Henry Box Brown's Abolitionist Performances

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Out of the Box: Analysis of Henry “Box” Brown’s Abolitionist Performances One of the most deplorable acts ever committed by mankind throughout the course of history was the buying and selling of human beings as pieces of property. A man by the name of Henry Brown was born into this system and although he was able to enjoy some level of comfort in his servitude, he still felt the longing to be free. The desire grew throughout his years in slavery until it finally cumulated in the act of securing a three-foot-by-two-foot box, sealing himself within, and shipping himself from Virginia to Philadelphia – a journey that took twenty-seven hours in total and earned him the title of Henry “Box” Brown. Upon achieving freedom, Brown sought to speak out …show more content…
One way to get the word out was through the 1849 Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Feet Wide. Written From a Statement of Fact Made by Himself. With Remarks Upon the Remedy for Slavery. By Charles Stearns. Unfortunately, while it was Brown’s story to tell, his voice was smothered and reduced by the editorial Charles Stearns. In the words of John Ernest, “Stearns does not simply put elaborate rhetoric in Brown’s mouth; he also has Brown introduce Stearns himself as someone more capable of speaking against the legal injustices of the system of slavery. More broadly, in the 1849 Narrative Brown often seems to be simply the occasion for Stearns own anti-slavery manifesto, presented in the form of a treatise title ‘Cure for the Evil of Slavery,’ for which Brown’s own story seems but an elaborate introduction” (179). While Stearns’s intentions to speak out about the “evil of slavery” might have been viewed as admirable, since he was a white man who had never experienced such evils first hand he could never bring sound articulation to the story of a man who had. In an attempt to do so, much of Brown’s narrative is censored despite the fact that “the male slave narrative genre…depends on exposure and graphic detail” (Brooks 71). For example, the 1849 Narrative begins with a …show more content…
The exhibition consisted of two major parts; Part I represented the beginnings of the slave trade, following the fall of a free Nubian family into captivity, and Part II illuminated the struggle between the labors involved in slavery and the labors involved to escape it. In the words of Brooks, Mirror of Slavery was “completely in favor of a repetition of scenes which evokes the fundamental repressiveness of the nation, its overarching lack of national progress” (89). Brown had not only an extremely good eye to look upon the injustices of “a country whose most honoured writings declare that all men have a right to liberty,” but he was also able to efficiently highlight such things in his work (Brown 52). To do so, Brown often included stark contrasting images in his panorama to show “a past idealized wide, open, spatial freedom and an urgently present imprisonment” (Brooks 89). As an English critic mentioned by Brooks observed, the tableaux included “representations strikingly illustrative of American institutions and inconsistencies. The noble House of Congress stands at the top of one picture, and in the foreground is to be seen a slave auction; also General Taylor (as president) driving in state into the city of Washington, whilst his four gray steeds are frightened by the cries and groans of a gang of slaves” (90). Such juxtapositions allowed Brown to point an accusatory finger at the country who only

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